The American special effects company that brought the ‘Transformers’ movies to life and recently wowed concertgoers with a performing hologram of late rapper Tupac Shakur is setting up a studio in Abu Dhabi.
The deal signed on Monday between Digital Domain Media Group and Abu Dhabi’s twofour54 deepens the capital’s ties to Hollywood as it accelerates its efforts to become a media hub.
Port St. Lucie, Florida-based Digital Domain plans to establish an animation, visual effects and motion-capture studio and a media school in Abu Dhabi as part of the deal. Abu Dhabi is providing $100 million in grants for the project.
Although several movies have been filmed in the Middle East — including last year’s Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, set partly in Dubai — it is the first time an international studio is laying down such deep roots in the region, said Wayne Borg, twofour54’s deputy CEO and chief operating officer.
“I think it’s a real game changer for the region in terms of giving us a seat at the table,” he said by phone from the Cannes Film Festival, where the deal was signed. “Historically we’ve never had the access and exposure to a company like that in the region.”
Digital Domain expects to begin hiring immediately and start work at the studio by early next year. The aim is to produce animated feature films, visual effects and other content both for the region and for international productions.
Over time, it plans to employ about 500 people in Abu Dhabi. A 150,000 square foot (14,000 square meter) production centre is slated to open in twofour54’s main media campus by the end of 2015.Neither company disclosed how much Digital Domain is kicking in. But Digital Domain Chairman and CEO John Textor said in an interview his company would make “a material capital expenditure” to the project.
“Travelling around the world and collecting grants is not a business model,” he said.
“We’re not going to Abu Dhabi just to say we’ve got our toe in the water,” he added, saying the planned centre could end up employing roughly as many people as its Florida headquarters.
Digital Domain has worked on more than 90 films, including Titanic, TRON: Legacy, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, where it digitally added decades to Pitt’s character. Filmmaker James Cameron helped found the company in 1993.
Abu Dhabi is investing hundreds of millions of dollars to carve out a niche in the global media ?industry. It set up a company in 2008 to partially bankroll Hollywood films.